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Slow initial response leads US to somber milestone

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-05-16 07:23

A man wearing a protective face mask sleeps on a subway train in New York City, US, May 6, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Country that rejected overseas aid in COVID fight hits million case mark

As the United States marked the somber milestone of 1 million people in the country killed by COVID-19, it looked back at what had caused the deaths of more Americans than those who died in World War I and War World II combined and why it happened, despite the US being one of the most developed countries and with first-class healthcare.

The country entered the pandemic while Republican president Donald Trump was in office. The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. At that time, only 36 people in the US had died from the virus.

In February 2020, Trump played down the severity of COVID, saying it was "no worse than the flu" and was going to "disappear". His words affected the public.

In private, however, Trump was telling people close to him that the virus was "deadly" according to the book Rage by journalist Bob Woodward, who interviewed the president on his strategy to tackle COVID-19.

Dr Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said she believes that politicizing the virus affected the US response to COVID-19 early on in the pandemic.

"I think the (Trump) administration did downplay the virus," Gandhi told China Daily.

Several other factors also slowed the country's initial response to the pandemic, especially a lack of national testing available.

In January 2020, when a Washington state man in his 50s became the first in the US confirmed to have died from COVID-19, tests for the virus were not widely available.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had developed its own test and even turned down tests made by Germany and used by the WHO, but the CDC's COVID-19 tests turned out to be faulty, further slowing things down.

Gandhi said she believes that the "problems with our testing platforms" were also detrimental.

Another issue was the lack of a unified message from the federal and state governments.

In the US, most decisions on how to handle COVID-19, like lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, were made at the state and local levels. The federal government offered financial assistance. This produced an uneven approach in some largely Democratic states compared with Republican states.

In August 2020, South Dakota, a largely Republican state, allowed a large public gathering, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, to take place. It turned out to be a "super spreader of COVID-19", according to research by the CDC.

Nearly half a million bikers attended the rally, many of them not wearing masks, as there was no mask mandate. Just two weeks later, the event had led to 463 COVID-19 cases, and 186 of those patients were identified as secondary contacts, meaning there were 649 total cases that could be traced to the event, a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases found in July 2021.

People in the US also didn't wear face masks early on to stop COVID-19 from spreading. While people in countries like China and South Korea believed in the benefits of wearing face masks to prevent the spread of illnesses since the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, it was uncommon in the US.

Both the CDC and WHO initially advised against mask wearing at the start of the pandemic, suggesting it was unnecessary. But both organizations soon reversed course.

CDC Director Dr Robert R. Redfield advised in July 2020 that "cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus".

Yet, even after mask mandates were put in place, Republican governors in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa resisted them.

Dr William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, told China Daily, "In Tennessee, the cities have a higher proportion of vaccine accepters than the rural communities."

The stress and shock of the pandemic also caused some people in the US to believe the pandemic was an elaborate hoax.

Dr Jane Appleby, chief medical officer for Methodist Hospital and Methodist Children's Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, told ABC News that one of their patients, a 30-year-old man, had attended a "COVID party" hosted by someone diagnosed as having the virus.

The attendees all wanted to see if they too would catch COVID-19 at the party so they could see if it was real.

Shortly before he died in July 2020, the man told his nurse, "I think I made a mistake. I thought this was a hoax, but it's not."

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